Ted Goranson - Personal Blog

The blog of Ted Goranson. This is both a personal blog and an ongoing update on his projects.

Baby Names

Published: 5 Nov 2012

Making baby names is an interesting responsibility. You have all the ordinary considerations, ideas about being unique but not too weird, ideas about matching name to personality, ideas about balancing how you will call your child with how her colleagues will, and what her lover will murmur. The usual stuff.

But I find myself thinking about another notion. A name is first a sound. A sound is a matter of patterns: how you coordinate your lips, tongue, breath and a variety of internal muscles. All of us have our own patterns which we present in speech, and I believe that like walking, sleeping and chewing the way we settle those patterns is a matter of accident.

Unless you train yourself, like a dancer, actor or seductress does, your gait will be a haphazard collection. So it is with speech, and when you try on certain sounds in your own mouth, you are basically comparing how they feel compared to patterns you live with. Try it by saying the names of the people you love and track where in your mouth you place the sound, where in your lungs you pump, how your tongue moves and whether your lips wrangle the same muscles you use for certain facial expressions.

Now as it happens I do have some related training. During high school, I worked at being a serious musician, a cornet player. I had a real teacher, someone who understood and conveyed how it was all about speaking through the instrument and how I had to reinvent how I spoke and breathed — not just master the systems of control, but reinvent everything about how they were used.

It was a matter of inventing a voice, a yoga of the whole upper body. To do this, you introspectively practiced every moment. You did this a few hours every day with the horn of course, but with every other moment as well: how you eat, how you breath when you walk. How you hum when thinking. How you even hold you mouth when in various situations. How you sleep.

And as it happens, there are certain patterns that emerge from this, patterns that are specific to singing through the horn but that remain when the horn is long gone. At 18, I decided to forego an offered musical career for being a scientist; the horn was put away and never touched again, but the patterns remain to be rediscovered now as I try on sounds I expect to live with for the rest of my life.

There is more tongue/breath manipulation in this, more rolling of sounds from front to back, more independence of breathing for life of blood and breathing for life of communication than I see with others. I have more soft consonants followed by hard ones in my dreams than I hear from other folks, and I use the sides of my tongue more than I recall. Do I use these fondly practiced patterns and preferences to choose from possible names? Is it fair to choose something that seems right when spoken by me alone? Who owns the feel of the name anyway?

And this brings another matter of vocal physics. None of us hears ourselves the way others do. They have to deal with the compromises of transmission through air, a rather poor medium. When talking with ourselves, we get most of the sound through our own bones, moderated by flesh and moving fluids. Small details in the shape of our skulls matter, little tunnel pockets that formed when infants to match folds in the brain — which in turn match neural clustering. Each head is its own source of internal resonance; what we say influences how we think.

We hear so much more from ourselves than we ever could from others. We are providers of our own richest music because we have a channel that no other musician can use.

Do I favor a name that feels right when I hear/feel it, or when this fresh soul does?

© copyright Ted Goranson, 2012